(Charles Isherwood's aritcle appeared in The New York Times, October 8.)

Woman of 1,000 Faces Considers the Body

Even if you have already had your fill of heated debate about the crisis in American health care — informed, opinionated or just plain batty — do not go in fear of “Let Me Down Easy,” the new solo show from Anna Deavere Smith, which opened Wednesday night at the Second Stage Theater. The buzz words that have been filling the airwaves like swarms of gnats (“public option,” “death panels”) make no appearances in this engrossing collection of testimonials about life, death and the care of the ailing body.

True, Ms. Smith has collected some input on the state of the current system. She includes contributions from a rodeo bull rider with a cynical view of doctors and a medical school dean who argues that prime consideration must be given to end-of-life care. (Yep, it’s that freighted grandma issue.) But just as often she seeks answers to more open-ended questions about the power of the human body, its susceptibility to disease, and the divide between spirit and flesh that poses mysteries no one can really elucidate.

Unlike Ms. Smith’s acclaimed previous works, about the riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn (“Fires in the Mirror”) and the racial unrest in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict (“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992”), her new show is not tightly focused on a historical event.

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(Anna Deavere Smith's work is included in One on One:  The Best Women's Monologues for the 21st Century from Applause Theatre & Cinema Books.)

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